YANGON: On Friday, an armed group in Myanmar’s conflict-ravaged Rakhine state liberated three members of the ruling party of Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been abducted before the November election.
The Arakan Army (AA) has been engaged in combat with the strong military of Myanmar for nearly two years, battling for more rights for the ethnic Rakhine population of the province.
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With hundreds dead or wounded and some 200,000 people forced to leave their homes in an area under a tight curfew, both sides are accused of human violations, making impartial monitoring all but unlikely.
Gunmen marched on a campaign rally in Taunggok township in southern Rakhine and abducted three MP candidates in October, weeks before an election that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was supposed to dominate nationally.
The AA said the prospective lawmakers would be freed only if those “unlawfully detained” by the government and the army were released, accusing the NLD of “collaborating and covering up war crimes committed by the Myanmar Army”.
“The trio was released on Friday, “after talks,” along with three soldiers still held by the AA, the army, known as the Tatmadaw in Burmese, said in a statement.
This afternoon, AA handed them over to the Tatmadaw Duty Squad… “And they were safely taken by military helicopter to (the capital of Rakhine state) Sittwe,” the statement read.
The militant group announced the release, saying that “for the purposes of war, politics and revolution,” the three NLD members were abducted.
It also called for the rehabilitation of thousands of Rakhine leaders and people, including AA participants.
“As we have published (the representatives of the NLD), we demand… For AA members who were detained to be released in exchange for peace,’ said the party. The western state was a hotbed of violence for a long time.
Rakhine people and village leaders accused of being involved have been arrested after the AA stepped up attacks on the military in 2018, while family members of influential AA figures have also been detained.
The election commission said security fears before the November poll meant that the vote would be cancelled across swathes of the country, including most of Rakhine.
The move sparked fury from a minority community that has long felt oppressed by the ethnic Bamar majority of the country, and also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the vote.
The ruling party of Suu Kyi, as predicted, swept the election in a landslide victory.
But the Arakan National Alliance, a hardline ethnic Rakhine nationalist party, won in Taunggok township, where the three abducted candidates were expected to stand.